Like many advertisers, Fidelity Investments wants to avoid advertising online near controversial content. The Boston-based financial-services company has a lengthy blacklist of words it considers off-limits.
If one of those words is in an article’s headline, Fidelity won’t place an ad there. Its list earlier this year, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, contained more than 400 words, including “bomb,” “immigration” and “racism.” Also off-limits: “Trump.”
Some news organizations have had difficulty placing Fidelity’s ads on their sites, ad-sales executives said, because the list is so exhaustive and the terms appear in many news articles.
Big advertisers have been burned several times in recent years when their digital ads appeared next to offensive content, including fabricated news articles, hateful or racist videos on YouTube and pornographic material.
Such miscues happen, in part, because of the complexities of online ad-buying, where brands generally target certain kinds of audiences rather than specific sites or types of content. It has become clear to advertisers that one way to protect themselves is to stipulate the websites or types of web content they want to avoid, and ensure their partners—digital ad brokers and publishers—honor those wishes.
“Political stories are, regardless of party affiliation, not relevant to our brand,” a Fidelity spokesman said in a written statement. The company also avoids several other topics that it says don’t align with published content about business and finance.
Marketers have used blacklists for years to sidestep controversy. Airlines avoided articles dealing with airline crashes, for instance. Now those blacklists are becoming more sophisticated, specific and extensive, ad executives said.
Online news publishers are feeling the impact, from smaller outlets to large players such as CNN.com, USA Today-owner Gannett Co. , the Washington Post and the Journal, according to news and ad executives.